This food is killing us

I’ve found that it takes TWO (not one) friends breathlessly recommending a book to get me to read it.

So six months ago, when a friend spent the better part of a week extolling The China Study (and telling me that humans weren’t meant to consume milk produced by non-humans), I filed it away under “someday.”  And then in December when a colleague told me he was off of meat and dairy because of the book, I gave in.

The China Study is written by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his son Thomas.  Dr. Campbell is  an emeritus professor of nutrition at Cornell, where he has taught since 1975 and where he holds an endowed chair.  The book’s title is a reference to the China Study, one of the largest and longest (20 years) studies ever on the impact of nutrition on health.  And this obscure book published by an obscure publisher has now sold more than 500,00 copies.

The book is plain-spoken, fact-based, and data-driven.  It cites hundreds of peer reviewed articles and details the effects of diet on nearly every major disease.   And it argues that consuming animal protein (from meat, fish, and diary) is killing us.  Not just by causing heart disease, obesity and Type I diabetes, but cancer too.  And by consuming a “whole foods, plant based diet,” one in which protein consumed from animal products (meat, poultry, fish and dairy) approaches 0% of calories consumed, we can dramatically decrease the risk of contracting all of these diseases.

A streetcart I saw today

The studies that bowled me over focus on cancer.  Dr. Cambpell found that the risk of developing cancer in the presence of powerful carcinogens (specifically aflotoxin) can drop dramatically when people consume….a whole foods, plant-based diet.  And after showing the effects of diet in stopping cancer he details eye-popping results in fighting diabetes, heart disease, obesity, even in people with high risks and existing conditions.  All from changes in diet.

I had always assumed that since I generally eat “healthfully” and in moderation that I’m good to go.  It never occurred to me that I could dramatically reduce my risk of disease by altering my diet.  Sure, on some level i know that that I should be eating more fiber, more dark leafy greens, more vegetables, and less red meat and fat.  But I figured that I’m generally doing OK since I don’t eat fast food or a lot of processed junk.

What really got my attention were Dr. Campbell’s studies that showed the risk of cancer and heart disease drop dramatically (really dramatically!) when people shift from getting 20% of their diet from animal protein to 0-5% (and 20% represents a moderate western diet – the US dietary guidelines say 30% is OK).   The way Dr. Campbell writes, it makes me think that 50 years from now, the way we think about nutrition today will feel like the way people talked about smoking in the 1950s.   His studies show that genetic predisposition and / or carcinogens are like seeds in a garden – they put you at risk, but if you don’t feed them with a high-protein diet (the equivalent of sun and water), cancers and heart disease don’t develop.

Now what?

I have to be honest and say that I don’t know, yet.  I’m not ready to proclaim myself a vegetarian or a vegan today, but I’m taking Dr. Cambpell’s advice and giving it a 30 day trial.  I know I won’t pull off strict rules (the tortilla I had yesterday at lunch apparently has some dairy), but I also know that skipping the turkey sandwich and the gyro for lunch on two consecutive days for a hummus sandwich and a falafel didn’t leave me any worse for the wear.  And I’ve consumed two sweet potatoes this week.

This is a book you want to read, and then you can decide for yourself.  If you like the book, I suspect that you might soon find yourself browsing great website like

Seriously, this is information you want to know.

6 thoughts on “This food is killing us

  1. I should read the book.

    But just off the top, if our current diet is “killing” us, why is it that life expectancies are at an all-time high, especially in the meat-eating industrialized West? Never before have so many people lived so long. In fact, many of us are living so long that we’re outliving our awareness and other limitations of the organism, like our bone structures. (Is being 95 years old, immobilized, and not knowing who you are exactly winning the game? I’ve divided on that one, but it’s happening more and more often.)

    If you do go vegan, be sure to get some vitamin B12 from somewhere. It is not contained in a vegan diet, your body cannot manufacture it, and you need it to live. (Is this fact some kind of hint? You will have to figure that out for yourself.)

  2. Okay, very interesting…but I’m just dying to ask: where do Sweet Potato Fries fall on the scale from “Prevents Cancer” to “Kills You”?

    Seriously though, I find that every time I have become motivated to eat healthy it wears off after about 2-4 months. Therefore I suggest that around early May you read another great book with some similar messages entitled “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan (a Berkeley native like me).

    In the meantime, I’ll try to find another friend of yours to make the same recommendation.

    p.s. i’d kill for a proper burger right now

  3. These claims are ridiculous. We are living longer than ever and the world is over populated as it is. Where are all the dead people from these poisonous foods? Maybe you should check this out…

    too bad someone didn’t step in and buy this poor child a happy meal. Maybe a few chicken nuggets here and there would have saved his life….

  4. I love meat. But I recently saw a 1 1/2 hr. vid called Forks Over Knives my Dentist gave me. It is shocking. Several case studies here and in China and the statistic to back up the claims that meat and dairy products are a road to slow motion suicide. The video shows proof how a plant based diet can reverse heart disease,diabetes and repair arterial damage. I have in recent years become a huge BBQ fan learning how to cook great BBQ. But now I’m numb in the knees. I don’t think I’ll give up meat but I may slow down my intake. I’m 62 and old age and problems are creeping up on me most likely due to my diet.

  5. I’m 67 and I just started learning horseback riding. I eat a lot of meat. Nothing is killing me yet.

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